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“This is not a place of perdition,” he often said about the Riverside Park tunnel when we talked together during his shifts as a maintenance worker in Central Park. A place to find peace and take a break from the chaos.” He would then reminisce about his old life, his eyes would light up and there would be the crack of a smile, and whatever place we were in would be filled by his presence.
Isaac was at the very center of the Mole People legend.
He was back less than seven months later, the ,000 Hollywood deal gone sour and Kovacs unable to adjust to life in larger society.
Another who attempted to go to the surface was Bob Kalinski, a speed addict known as the fastest cook east of the Mississippi, who could fry twenty eggs at a time when on amphetamines. The tunnel was a better place for him to be alone in freedom.
Photojournalists Margaret Morton and Andrea Star Reese have both extensively documented communities spread in underground hideouts since Toth’s book. Written in an abandoned crew room of the F subway line, these words were the reason I ventured into the tunnels in the first place, looking for the invisible, guided by local dwellers along the years to seek foundations of humanity in the foundations of the city.
Dutch anthropologist Teun Voeten’s 1996 diary “Tunnel People” provided an incredible account of the months he spent with the Riverside Park Amtrak tunnel inhabitants before they were evicted and moved to Section 8 housing units. All the stories I had read about the Mole People before descending myself had two things in common.
Joseph Brennan, a New York rail buff, wrote an extensive and detailed critique in 1996, exposing many discrepancies in Toth’s reporting, such as places that couldn’t exist, exaggerated numbers and contradictory claims.
“I’m not saying the book is not true, I just never experienced the things [she] said she saw,” Fletcher explained to Adams.
Every noise is threatening in the tunnel, and I find myself constantly looking over my shoulder, ready to face something too awful to name.
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The tunnel was known by homeless people since its inception in the 1930s, when it was used by trains to bring cattle to the city before the freight operations ended. The legal limit of returnable cans is 240 per person per day, so Raúl has to go to several supermarkets to earn more.
Its population, limited at first to about three or four individuals, quickly grew at the time Isaac settled in, evolving into small tribes of vagrants who built thriving shantytowns in the newly abandoned space. “It often scared grown men easily,” recounted Isaac in 2010 as he showed me his old hangout places. Some, like Isaac, were at home in the darkness, and would not have lived anywhere else. “You can actually make a good life here when you’re broke,” he says.
“Unquestionably.” * * * I keep walking along the tracks.